Trevor Linden’s political ambition relies on undeserved repute

By Mark Hasiuk, Vancouver Courier
March 21, 2011

Last week two Canadian obsessions, politics and hockey, collided when Vancouver Canuck legend Trevor Linden sat next to Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Canuck/Wild game at Rogers Arena.

The smiling couple, photographed and tweeted for the world to see, sparked speculation about a Linden candidacy in the next federal election, which may be called sometime this week. Speculation mounted the following day after news broke that the Tories dumped Rachel Greenfeld, Conservative candidate in Vancouver Centre.

Although 22 of British Columbia’s 36 ridings are Conservative, no Tory has won in Vancouver since Kim Campbell in 1988. A Vancouver seat moves Harper one step closer to his long-sought majority. Harper denied any Linden recruitment effort, claiming the idea never entered his big brain. Linden’s denial, however, was more revealing. While deflecting questions with Prairie boy charm, he refused to rule out a future run—all but confirming his political ambition. “I just finished a 20-year hockey career. I’m enjoying the things I’m doing,” said Linden, during an interview with CTV. “You never say never, but right now I’m enjoying what I’m doing.”

No doubt those words reverberated around Hedy Fry headquarters on Denman Street. Fry, a Liberal MP of the Chrétien mold, has ruled Vancouver Centre since 1993. Because the NDP has never won the riding, it’s typically a two-horse race. In 2008, Fry defeated Tory challenger Lorne Mayencourt by 5,214 votes.

Greenfeld, unknown and inexperienced, posed no threat to Fry in the upcoming election. But Linden’s a different egg.

As the most popular person in Vancouver history, he’d mount a formidable challenge to any politician in the province. A Linden campaign starts near the finish line. He’s got unrivalled name recognition, connections in the media and among Vancouver’s elite, good looks and money to burn. He spent his entire adult life on camera parroting clichés (pucks on net, play a full 60 minutes) while honing his image as a western Canadian icon.

He’s a nightmare opponent for the Fry campaign. How do you attack the man most women want and most men want to be. How do you smear the adopted son. The model citizen. The comforter of sick kids.

If anyone could do it, it’s Hedy Fry. She clawed her way to Ottawa, grinding her six-inch pumps into all enemies real or imagined. But Linden’s celebrity exceeds Fry’s ferocity, cross-burning Klansmen in Prince George notwithstanding. If I ran Fry’s campaign (and I’m available, if the money’s right), I’d attack Linden’s record—as a hockey player. Because that’s all anyone really knows about big number 16. And Linden’s record hardly justifies his reputation.

Linden peaked as a teenager in the late 1980s, helping lead his hometown Medicine Hat Tigers to back-to-back Memorial Cups. As a professional, he played most of his career in a hockey-mad city devoid of hockey superstars. Subsequently, he may be the most overrated hockey player of all time. In the history of sports, Linden’s best season (33-47-80) ranks somewhere between Steve Podborski’s 1980 Olympic downhill bronze and Bryant Reeves’ double-double against the Celtics in 1997.

While Linden was great during the ’94 playoff run, the Canucks advanced past the second round only once during his tenure with the team. He was soft for a big man. He was afraid to fight. One night at the Pacific Coliseum, Jets enforcer Tie Domi reduced him to tears. During the 1997-98 season, Mike Keenan and Mark Messier (two Men with a capital M) tolerated Linden’s act for five months before shipping him to Long Island. He was welcomed back to Vancouver in 2001, often skating on the third line before retiring in 2008.

Off the ice, Linden served eight years as president of the National Hockey League Players’ Association, presiding over the disastrous 2004–05 lockout, which cancelled an entire season, decimated U.S. television revenues and mothballed the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1919.

Fry could note all of this, while congratulating Linden for his community service. Meanwhile, conservative skeptics could test Linden’s conservatism, an ideology routinely discarded by Harper and company. (See record $55 billion budget deficit, Wilsonian adventure in Afghanistan, etc.)

Or maybe not. At this point it’s pure speculation. According to Harper, Linden’s just a friend.

In 2006, the Conservatives courted Russ Courtnall, a former Canuck and Duncan native, to run in Victoria. The Tories understand the power of hockey in Canada and the potential of former players in today’s media-swamped political campaigns.

Courtnall said no. He wasn’t ready for primetime. But to be fair, he’s no Trevor Linden.

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